Lolita Then and Now:nMatter-of-Fact Confession of a Non-PenitentnVladimir Nabokov: Lolita; G.P.nPutnam’s Sons; New York, 1958.nby Thomas MolnarnTh . here may yet develop, in literarynand legal circles, a “Lolita case,” as therenhas been a case of Ulysses and of LadynCbatterly’s Lover. This does not meannthat Nabokov’s book reminds me ofneither; if similarities are to be searchednfor, I would think of the eighteenthcenturynLes Liaisons dangereuses bynChoderlos de Laclos, and, nearer to us,nThomas Mann’s Confessions of FelixnKrullnDr. Molnar is Professor of French andnWorld Literature at Brooklyn College.nLolita is a confession too, althoughncertainly not of a penitent. It is far lessnmatter-of-fact than Laclos’ novel whichnis, like Lolita the narrative of two systematicallynplanned seductions by an oldernman, one of his victims being a sixteenyear-oldngirl, conquered under the eyesnof her young fiance.nLolita’s originality is that it speaks ofnthe unspeakable in such a manner that itnbecomes credible, understandable, almostnnormal. As Lionel Trilling says, thenreader simply cannot work up sufficientnindignation; instead, he remains annamused observer, a sophisticated peepingnTom. Austere censors may, of course,nwarn him of the sensuous atmospherenin which the story is immersed, thenquasi-incestuous relationship betweennHumbert Humbert, a scholarly, analytical-minded,nvery good looking “big hunknof a man,” and his twelve-year old stepdaughter,nthe boyish-girlish “nymphet,”nLolita. The censor’s case is even betternwhen he points out that this rapportnborders on the horrifying since Humbertnmarries Lolita’s mother in order to bencloser to the child, and becomes theninvoluntary cause of his wife’s deathnwhich gives him access to the nymphet’sn—no longer innocent—bed.nMore than one bed, many beds. Thenlast two-thirds of the novel is a fantasticnjourney through the forty-eight States,nthrough motels, hotels, lodges, and rentednhomes, the dreary, uniform scenes ofndesperate love-makings and furtive side-nContinued .on following pagen”Oh, How ^u Have to Cringe and Hide!”nVladimir Nabokov: Lolita; G.P.nPutnam’s Sons; New York, 1958.nby Dain A. TraftonnIr .n his essay “On a Book EntitlednLolita,” Vladimir Nabokov gives a humorousnbut troubling account of his difficultiesnin finding a publisher for the booknthat is now considered his masterpiece.nAfter he had finished “copying the thingnout in longhand in the spring of 1954,”nhe dispatched it to four American presses,none after another, and received fournletters of rejection in return. It seemsnthat the novel was even more shockingnthan either Nabokov or “a wary oldnfriend,” who advised anonymous publication,nhad foreseen. One publishernopined that Lolita could send both himnand Nabokov to jail. Another “regrettednthere were no good people in the book.”nSome assumed the work to be deliberatenpornography (and, Nabokov suggests.nDr. Trafton teaches English literature atnRockford College.nmay have been not only shocked butnbored). All considered the theme—thenpassionate love of a middle-aged man forna twelve year old girl, a “nymphet”—n”utterly taboo.”nNabokov claims that he did not carenwhether his novel was judged pornographicnor not. “Lolita,”he asserts, “hasnno moral in tow,” and aims only at affordingnan experience of “aesthetic bliss.”nThe rest of us, however, ought to carenwhenever narrow-mindedness and lacknof imagination in high places (whethernin government or business) fail to distinguishnbetween true art and pornography.nEvery time the publication or sale of anMadame Bovary, a Ulysses, or a Lolita isnhindered, another “martyr” is created thatncan be exploited by pornographers tondiscredit the fight against real filth. ThatnLolita finally appeared under the auspicesnof the Olympia Press in Paris, a housenknown for its trade in erotica, provides ansad comment on the judgment of Americannpublishers. Lolita is not pornographic.nNor, in spite of Nabokov’s rather defiantnassertion, is the “aesthetic bliss” that thennnnovel furnishes devoid of morality. It maynbe true that the book contains no “goodnpeople,” but taken as a whole it expressesnthe rich, humane, and moral vision ofnlife that informs all great art. Indeed,nLolita instructs us in the qualities thatnseparate conscientious artistry fromnmeretricious .sensationalism.nAs Nabokov himself points out, pornographyncannot be defined simply asnliterature that deals with sex. The termndescribes not the subject matter of a worknbut rather its manner and spirit. Abovenall, the pornographer aims at one effect—nthe stimulation of lust—and he scrupulouslynsubordinates every detail to thatnend. “Thus,” Nabokov writes, “in pornographicnnovels, action has to be limitednto the copulation of cliches. Style, structure,nimagery should never distract thenreader from his tepid lust.” There isnnothing tepid about Lolita’s treatmentnof sex, but neither is it lustful. On thencontrary, “action,” “style,” “structure,” andn”imagery”—often thought of as merelynaesthetic or technical elements—func-nContinued on following pagen11nChronicles of Culturen